Performing double piano concerto Zone de Turbulence by Philippe Manoury, with the dynamic Polish pianist Adam Kosmieja, with NOSPR orchestra conducted by the charismatic conductor Alexander Liebreich, at the inaugural concert of the historically important Warsaw Autumn festival.
Jenny Q Chai performs Manoury’s double piano concerto “Zones de turbulences” with Adam Kosmieja and the National Radio Symphony Orchestra in the inaugural concert of Poland’s largest contemporary music festival, with conductor Alexander Liebreich.
Marco Stroppa of Italy is a pre-eminently active and innovative composer in Europe. In his piano works Traiettoria for piano and computer-synthesized sounds (written from 1982 to 1984) and Miniature Estrose Vol. 1 – seven pieces for solo piano (written from 1991 to 2002), Stroppa has discovered many new and important nuances of the sound from the piano. His insightful studies, therefore, not only opened up new ways of thinking, but also enriched previous understanding of the sound world of the piano. A versatile music scholar and practitioner, Stroppa is at once a composer, a pianist, a musicologist, an electronic music engineer, a science researcher. In addition, Stroppa has studied media technology (covering cognitive psychology, artificial intelligence and computer music) at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Stroppa specializes in creating musical sounds that are rich with expressive quality, emotion, and poetic imagery, using an approach that is tied to the presentation of sheer quality of timbre, character, and articulation, giving a prominent and perceptual importance to the extreme details of the sound. He is also known to use cognitive psychology in composition.
A celebratory performance for Jenny Q Chai’s new recording:
“Life Sketches: Piano Music of Nils Vigeland” (Naxos Records)
On Sunday, September 21, 2014 at 7 pm, Shanghai/New York-based pianist Jenny Q Chai (www.JennyChai.com) will be throwing an album release party at New York City’s Spectrum (www.spectrumnyc.com). Spectrum is located at 121 Ludlow Street, 2nd Floor, New York City. (Essex stop on J, M and Z trains; Delancey stop on F Train.) Free admission.
Jenny Q Chai will be performing selections from Life Sketches, the latest digital release of the esteemed Classical label Naxos. Life Sketches is the product of a long-time collaboration between the Chinese pianist Jenny Q Chai and American composer Nils Vigeland.
Chai first met Vigeland when she was studying for her master’s degree, where he served as her theory teacher. With a shared a love of New Music, and an admiration for her playing, Vigeland gave Chai the score for his original work Life Sketches. “This was the first serious piano cycle I’d ever received from a living composer, and I took it very seriously,” said Chai. “…It was overwhelming!”
This world première recording presents five works spanning forty years in their date of composition. One of the selections, Allora e ora (Now and Then), is a suite of character pieces on Italian subjects, running a constant exploration of the unique resonances of the piano, especially those created through the use of the sostenuto pedal.
Another work, Five Pieces, is from 2010, and was specifically composed for and dedicated to Jenny Q Chai. “The different texture of each of the pieces was intended to give Jenny every opportunity to utilize her varied and remarkable gifts of touch and timbre,” said Nils Vigeland.
Chai will augment the evening’s performance with works by living composers Marco Stroppa and Jarosław Kapuściński, not included on the recording.
Stroppa’s Birichino is a boy who died as a casualty of police terror in Italy. While the subject matter appears heavy, the piece is light and humorous, with an overarching theme about refusing to be treated as a victim.
Kapuściński’s Juicy, a work about personified fruit, is a carefully designed work for piano and video, where the aural and visual aspects are equally important. Juicy will be played with the artificial intelligence software Antescofo, designed by Marco Stroppa at IRCAM.
Both supplemental works will be part of Jenny’s upcoming program at the Leo Brouwer Festival in Cuba. Bobby McFerrin, Yo-Yo Ma, and Jordi Savall will also be performing.
Nils Vigeland, Wild Hopes/Trumpets/Cambiata Waltzfrom Life Sketches
Nils Vigeland, L’empire des lumières
Nils Vigeland, Santa Fina/I Turisti from Allora e ora
Marco Stroppa, Birichino from Miniature Estrose
Jarosław Kapuściński, Juicy
Nils Vigeland, 2 and 4/ 5 from Five Pieces
On Tues., Jan. 21, 2014, Jenny Q Chai returns to New York City’s (le) Poisson Rouge with If on a Winter’s Night…, a musical journey through the landscape of Western Music, in which she performs works by array of composers with whom she feels a vibrant kinship. The featured selections, by Bach, Debussy, Gibbons, Schumann, Stockhausen, and Stroppa, are interleaved with miniatures from Kurtág’s playful Játékok (Games), in a structural gesture inspired by Italo Calvino’s intricately raveled novel examining the nature of reality and fiction, If on a winter’s night a traveler.
Jenny explains: “I imagine this concert as a kind of train journey through Western Music, in which Kurtág’s beautiful music brings me to meet with each of these composers, speaking to them in their own musical language and engaging with them as the authentic innovators they were. As I laid out the order of the works, seeking to demonstrate the connections and common language I sense within them, I was inspired by Calvino’s gorgeous novel, If on a winter’s night a traveler, which in turn was inspiration for Marco Stroppa’s Miniature Estrose(from which Ninnananna is taken).
“The Kurtág ‘train’ of selections from his delightful Játékok references my own personal musical education; many of these works were given to me by my dear teacher, Pierre-Laurent Aimard, and represent my own discovery of this phenomenal composer and his rich, important body of repertoire.”
And, if you can’t make it in person, you can Live Stream the concert here (beginning at 7:30pm, Jan. 21.)
Jenny recently authored a post for the Ariel Artists blog; we offer it to you here:
While the U.S. and Europe have gone through a century of contemporary music, it is only the very beginning for China when it comes to Western contemporary classical music. Perhaps this is because such music is not China’s own culture, or perhaps the Chinese are still too enthusiastic about the Romantic period (even Debussy and Ravel are not often played in China). The only contemporary person recognized by Chinese audiences is Tan Dun, but more for his Crouching Tiger score. About his more experimental writing, he was often attacked by hostile conservatives, even on broadcast TV shows. So, it makes the prospect of someone like me, a Chinese-American contemporary pianist, performing contemporary music in China quite interesting.
Being the first one to bring prepared piano to China in 2006, I had the honor of watching the news of prepared piano soon take over Chinese press that summer. That reaction was unexpected, because prepared piano was nothing new to me. Meanwhile the media used the phrase “prepared piano arriving in China for the first time” in headlines everywhere. The piece was called Mallet Dance for two prepared pianos, by John Slover, commissioned by me and Piotr Tomasz.
During that performance, audiences exclaimed during each new sound with joy. They especially gasped when Piotr put small wooden balls onto the strings of the piano, the balls bounced up and down when Piotr continued to play. [ed. note: watch a live video of their performance]
It was a joyful time, sharing something so American to over 1,300 Chinese concert-goers. The concept was to imitate traditional Chinese instruments, especially those played at an ancient Chinese wedding. I think that’s a big factor in why Chinese audiences were able to relate to the sounds.
After that summer, I went back to the States to continue my studies. At the time, I didn’t imagine that I would be the one to bring contemporary music to China. For that time was before my conscious realization of my deep connection to and enthusiasm for new music. Not until 2011 when I relocated back to Shanghai after devoting myself to new music for the last 7 years, did it become clear to me that I would be promoting new music in China.
After being offered a contract to perform at the Shanghai Concert Hall, I proposed a concert program including the Debussy Etudes interspersed with contemporary pieces. My program proposal was heavily contemplated by the presenter, who then backed out of the contract, stating that they couldn’t get it approved by the government in time.
Losing hope in big official venues, I opened FaceArt Music InterNations with my fiancé Piotr Tomasz, wanting to make FaceArt an edgy performance space somewhat like (le) poisson rouge. We did about three creative programs, all with fewer than 10 people showing up every time. In the end, only the education part of FaceArt took off and was able to support the operational costs of FaceArt. I started mixing contemporary works by such composers as Cage, Kurtág, and Messiaen into my teaching, and still performed contemporary music once in a while at FaceArt. In addition, I invited pianists and composers from the U.S. to perform new music and conduct workshops for a group of our own audience members, mainly made up of students and their parents. They received our guest artists better and better after each educational event, and began to pride themselves on being the students of a contemporary pianist.
It wasn’t until last year, when I received an invitation to perform an all-contemporary solo concert at the “Carnegie of China,” the National Performing Arts Center, that I started to see some change in the attitude of people towards new music. Then the most authoritative classical magazine, Piano Art, published a lengthy 14-page interview with me, in which I discussed contemporary music and especially Cage, an American who uses Chinese philosophy like the I-Ching, and how ridiculous it is that Chinese people don’t even know when someone outside of China is utilizing Chinese philosophy for music.
I gave a lecture on Cage to 300 middle school Chinese students, and that’s another story.
To be brief, there are many interesting aspects I am starting to see in the Chinese reaction towards new music. The majority of people often have quite a lot of curiosity about new music. A group of conservative and political musicians are very much against it. Top university non-music major students adore it.
Social media plays some part in it. As I started posting more and more tweets on Chinese Twitter (called Weibo) about composers such as Cage, Carter, and Ligeti, there were up to a hundred re-tweets. But recently, someone (I’m guessing a composer) on Weibo started a discussion and expressed his own honest feelings about how he thinks Cage’s music has no value, it’s all about gimmicks and anyone can do it. I got excited and wrote back quite a few responses about what I think is the actual value in Cage, his philosophy that sound is music, and his use of theI-Ching and chance music. I encouraged further discussion, but received no further response. I guess the person felt intimidated.
Actually, there has been a huge resistance to Cage in China. There was a very interesting live talk show on CCTV, where the host invited Tan Dun and a very old-fashioned conductor who used to be very famous for conducting communistic music. From the beginning of the show, this conductor started trashing Tan Dun’s and Cage’s music ruthlessly, saying anyone who makes some water can call it “Water Music,” but it’s no music. But now that he is a celebrated international composer, somehow he thinks he is justified to do anything. He also complained about how Cage puts stinky fish into the piano, etc. Tan Dun was quiet for a long time when this conductor went on and on with his opinion, then finally, when the host asked Tan Dun for his response, he said: “I didn’t know you would invite him, otherwise I wouldn’t have come. I have nothing to say to such a person with such taste and level.” And he stood up and walked out of the broadcasting room. The live audience waited anxiously for Tan Dun’s return for 45 minutes, but he didn’t come back. After that, the host interviewed the audience, and it turned out there were really sophisticated people in the audience. There were an American music critic, a few Chinese-Americans, a Spanish student, and they started having a heated debate with this conductor, accusing him of being close-minded. I remember one woman from Hong Kong asking the conductor if he’d ever actually heard Cage’s music, and his answer was no, but that he had heard people talking about how Cage’s music was made, and that put him off already. That answer made him seem extremely ignorant and stupid in that setting in front of such a sophisticated audience. I can’t help but wonder, was this conductor set up? Why did they purposely find such sophisticated audience members?
Just two weeks ago on September 13th, I gave the season opening concert for the Shanghai Symphony, performing the wildest/experimental music ever written for piano, which included playing with baseballs and a baseball mitt, singing, tapping, and more. I originally also wanted to perform Cage’s Water Walk. But since it requires a big collection of household items such as a vase, flowers, mixer, pressure cooker, a bottle of Campari, ice, rubber duck, etc. (and the biggest item being a bathtub), the presenter couldn’t let me do it this time.
It turns out on that day, there was a crazy storm. The subway collapsed, and there were 4-hour-long traffic jams. Many people said they never saw Shanghai like this before. People were saying it was like The Day after Tomorrow. Yet the concert had a full house which overflowed to standing room only in the second half. To hear all the various ways people made it to the concert was very touching. Some walked in the huge storm for one hour, some got stuck in traffic for 4 hours. Some even came without any tickets, because the concert was sold out a month ago.
Media people also rushed in, even in that kind of weather. The five biggest newspapers reviewed the concert, all focusing on how new music is so well-presented and so new to Shanghai, but that it’s not against the ears. And they wrote about me playing with an iPad instead of printed scores, and told people what new music is about, and that it comes from the older period of Classical Music as its heritage. China’s biggest NPR station came right before the concert and did an interview with me. They asked me about new music, as well as about the educational flaws of the current Chinese music students, on which I have quite a lot of opinions, having dealt with many problematic cases. One of the biggest TV stations, DragonTV, also announced my concert in the morning before the concert.
I am quite surprised by all these positive reactions, especially the media reaction. People were telling me that people in Shanghai are a lot better at accepting new things and especially international trends than, for example, people from Beijing or elsewhere. Well, looking at Shanghai’s history and current stage, it is for sure the most international city in China. I hope I’ll be able to play more new music concerts in China and make a difference.